My Landlord Went Through My Closet

by | Dec 22, 2011 | Tenant Law

I live in a three-unit building in the Inner Sunset.  I’m not sure of the exact year, but I do know that it was constructed before 1979.  It is not a condo…I guess it’s a house but it’s divided into three flats.  I am 24 years old, and I’ve lived in the three-bedroom apartment for about 15 months.  Our rent is $2650 a month.

Our landlord is an eccentric guy, and we’ve always just dealt with it.  We only communicate when repairs are necessary, and since there have been times when he tries to get us to pay for them (and I’m really foggy on whose responsibility that is, but that’s a separate question), I usually fix things myself.  We had a problem with our toilet that I couldn’t deal with, so he and his handyman came over today.  He did give notice, but did not coordinate with us about when we could be here and he wound up coming at a time when no one was home.

Tonight I came home to a functional toilet, BUT the entire contents of our hall closet were on the floor, with a note on top of the heap saying “Do NOT cram things into this linen closet.  If the door can not move freely, the closet WILL break”.  The hall closet is not close to or even visible from the bathroom door, and you do not pass it between entering the apartment and arriving at the bathroom.

I’m uncomfortable for a lot of reasons.  It appears that he conducted some kind of inspection when he was only supposed to come over for repairs, and then when just a note would have sufficed he decided to actually throw our things on the floor.  I know it’s minor, but exactly what laws has he violated here?  Harassment?  Interference with our possessions?  Inspection without notice?  All of these above?  Also, what do I do?  I like living here and want to keep relations OK with him, but I also want him to know that he can’t pull these crazy moves on us.

More urgent is the crap-on-the-floor question, but if you could shed some light on who is responsible for paying for routine repairs (nothing inflicted by us), that would be so great.

My first reaction: Tell Martha Stewart that it isn’t any of his goddamned business what or how much you put in your linen closet and that if you ever see any evidence that he entered your unit without notice, you’ll report him to the police as a suspected panty sniffer.

My second reaction:  If you read my columns, you’ve probably noticed that there are several major themes in landlord tenant relationships. This one is the, “It’s my property and I can do anything I want. From now on call me Massa and be grateful that you pay me $31,800.00 per year for the privilege.”

My dispassionate, objective, legal analytic reaction:  Tell Martha Stewart that it isn’t any of his goddamned business what or how much you put in your linen closet…well, almost.

“Eccentric” may have been okay for Caligula or Crazy King Ludwig but it has no business in a supposedly democratic society that has, at least in the last hundred years or so, regulated and defined landlords’ duties toward their tenants. But then again, “They don’t call ’em landlords for nothing.”

I hope you took a photograph of the pile of your belongings on floor with the note. I hope you kept the note. Unfortunately, you may need this evidence later because anyone with the audacity to pull a stunt like this will likely do something similar again in some other context.

You say the landlord gave notice to enter. Did he give you a 24-hour written notice? You should also understand that fixing the toilet could come within the rubric of an emergency and your landlord may not have been required to notify you in writing. Read “Even Dracula Had to Have an Invite Before He Could Enter” to brush up on notice requirements.

As a regular reader, you understand that all of your communication should be in writing to the landlord, especially when the landlord is a nut case. Your letter to him should essentially express the fact that his actions have made you uncomfortable; that any entries in the future should be coordinated with you ahead of time; and that the law requires a 24-hour written notice.

In your landlord’s twisted version of reality you never had okay relations with him. You are simply an irritant, an itch that has to be scratched from time to time–the side effect of an addiction to free cash.  You should also understand that any push-back on a landlord like this will piss him off and he’ll start looking for a new supplier.

What are your legal remedies at this point? One could argue that the landlord may be guilty of all of the items you list above–harassment,  interference with your possessions, and  inspection without notice. But even assuming you could make a case, what are your damages? Remember, in this society, justice is only measured in dollars.

I think you should take a look around your apartment and determine if there are any substantial violations of the warranty of habitability.  Coordinate this with other tenants in the building who likely have similar stories. Make a long list if you can and present it to the landlord. If he refuses to act, call a Housing Inspector to issue a Notice of Violation.

If the Housing Inspector notes substantial violations, you can then petition for a substantial decrease in services at the Rent Board.

Finally, you are not responsible to pay for routine repairs. If you have paid for them in the past gather your bills and add those to your Rent Board petition.

As you also know, it’s always a good idea to bring your documentation to the San Francisco Tenants Union to confirm or to develop your strategy to “educate” the landlord.

Man, this piece of work, sure as hell, needs some education.

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